Monthly Archives: April 2018

Finding Healing through Horses

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Both Tyler and Ozzie have been on a journey to find healing through horses. For Ozzie, that therapeutic journey is just beginning, but for Tyler we are now eight months into his equine experience.

Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures, and although both boys work with the same therapist their sessions look very different. This is because each program is built around each client’s particular needs.

At the start of each boy’s therapeutic journey with Glad Run Adventures we sat down and discussed our goals for the program and the unique strengths and struggles of each child. The program was then tailored to meet that child’s needs.

For Tyler our goal for equine therapy was increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, increased confidence, and trauma healing. We know that one of the most successful therapeutic tools for Tyler is animals. He connects with animals easily and is able to open up and express emotions with animals in a way that traditional talk therapy doesn’t  always work.

Tyler has found a level of comfort and confidence on the back of his horse that isn’t always seen in other areas of his life. He LOVES equine therapy and has blossomed under this form of therapeutic care.

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After eight months of lessons he is now capable and comfortable grooming his own horse, mounting and dismounting independently, walking and trotting. This last week he was thrilled to discover he had graduated from lessons in the arena to his first trail ride. This was a big deal because he is “drove” his horse without the leading of his therapist. She followed as he took the lead.

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Ozzie’s first lesson was this past Wednesday. He also has an overall goal of trauma healing but has other objectives that differ from Tyler. For Ozzie our therapeutic goals include connecting and empathizing with his horse, mindfulness, body awareness, and sensory imput. Both my boys have sensory seeking behaviors- something that is commonly seen in children from hard places- but Ozzie’s added diagnoses of autism increases the need for sensory input even more. Our hope is that we will be able to really feed that need through horse therapy. Because Ozzie’s goals are a bit different than Tyler’s goals, more of Ozzie’s lesson time will be spent off the horse and focused on grooming. By grooming an animal Ozzie will be able to learn how to connect through showing care to another.

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He will strengthen his ability to read social cues by watching the horse’s reactions. He will get bathed in a sensory rich environment as he pets, brushes and squeezes the animal. He favorite think to do is rub his face in his horse’s mane.

Equine therapy is just one more tool we are applying to help our boys find help and healing.

Here is a little more information on this therapeutic tool as taken from equestriantherapy.com:

“Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.

In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.

Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a  beginners’ horse therapy, a student may be asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students may try to clap, yell and whistle but the horse won’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would not be the best way to make the person do something.

Why horses for therapy

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.

The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.

Therapeutic benefits of equestrian training

People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.

In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:

  • Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
  • Improve communication
  • Build trust and self-efficiency
  • Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
  • Learn impulse control and emotional management
  • Set perspective

Equine therapeutic activities

What are the equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes? The activities are not limited to horseback riding. Many students may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and may take some time to develop trust when around the horse. So included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming, saddling and basic equestrian.

How does equine therapist suit the activity to the patient’s needs? The process or technique to be applied during the session depends on the type of disorder and its severity. But the primary techniques are:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Practicing activities
  • Activity scheduling
  • Play therapy
  • Storytelling and talk therapy

Watch this video from Oprah Show on how equine therapy helps an army veteran cope with post traumatic stress.

A Thank You Note

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To the staff at Harborcreek Youth Services,
I just wanted to take a moment to express the gratitude our family has felt for the healing that has been found within the walls of Harborcreek Youth Services. It was with great heartache, but also great prayer, that we considered an RTF as the next needed step to help Ozzie and the rest of the family heal from immeasurable trauma. Ozzie came into our life four years ago through foster care. Upon meeting him for the first time we knew he was meant to be a forever member of our family. We also recognized that the path we were choosing to step on was not going to be smooth or easy. In addition to our three biological children we also had adopted a son with a similar trauma background to Ozzie’s and the same diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
We knew the hard journey that lay before us in helping him heal, but we also knew that God equips those He calls.
Harborcreek  has been an integral piece of Ozzie’s healing journey.
The year prior to his stay was fraught with heartbreaking and scary choices as we watched Ozzie spin out of control. Memories of his past abuses overtook any rational thinking and he was consumed with thoughts of hurting himself and others. Each month brought another trip to the emergency room and hospitalization as he was consumed with thoughts of hurting or killing himself to escape the memories of the past that continued to haunt him. Our home became a maximum security facility with cameras installed throughout the house, alarms on bedroom doors and myself acting as Ozzie’s shadow as we moved through the day.
My goal was simple.
I just wanted everyone alive and safe for another day.
My life felt much like I had pitched a tent on a battlefield.
We went through the motions of everyday living; preparing meals, eating dinner as a family, tucking children into bed, all while bullets whistled past our tent. We lived in constant fear that one day one of those threats would hit its mark, so we invested everything we had into helping Ozzie find healing. We soon realized that even with all the services and support we had in place ( trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, equine therapy, medication management, and family based services,) for him to find the healing we wished for him, a higher level of therapeutic support would be needed.
It was with broken hearts we agreed to the next needed level of therapeutic support, which was an RTF.
It was a decision we didn’t make lightly, and while I knew our hands were tied slightly in the decision making process of where the insurance company would approve him to go, I knew that God knew where Ozzie needed to be. After much research and a lot of prayer my hopes lay in Harborcreek Youth Services.
Our first interaction with Harborcreek Youth Services came in the form of an interview with an intake worker at Harborcreek.
He met with us at an Eat n Park, halfway between our home and Erie, and over lunch he got to know us and in turn let us ask questions about the facility. The purpose of the meeting was for him to meet Ozzie in person, recognizing the impossible task of really getting to know a boy through a list of behaviors on paper. He wanted to make sure Ozzie was a good fit for the facility before a bed was offered and that was the first clue that Harborcreek Youth Services was different than other RTFs.
Rather than being driven by a bottom line, he was asking the questions needed to make sure Ozzie would be a good fit with the other boys and that Harborcreek would be the right fit for Ozzie and our family. The motivation was evident. This was not a business motivated by money, but rather motivated by something more divine…helping hurt kids heal.
When we received the call that a bed was available for Ozzie it was with a hard mix of emotions. There was relief and gratitude, but also much sadness that our adoptive journey had strayed so far from where we thought it would take us.
I struggled to hold back the tears on the day we dropped Ozzie off, and it was with great compassion and kindness that the staff helped us with that transition.
The first month was challenging for Ozzie and for the rest of the family as we struggled to find our new “normal,” but we soon saw that this higher level of therapeutic care was exactly what Ozzie needed. We were blown away by all that was offered at Harborcreek. Ozzie’s days were filled with group therapy sessions, music therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, trauma release exercises and EMDR therapy. The fact that Harborcreek offered EMDR therapy was one of the greatest pulls for our family. We have seen how much more effective it is for kids with RAD and PTSD than traditional therapies, and here he was able to really delve into the darkness that haunted him. His therapists worked to help Ozzie strengthen his communication skills, his ability to recognize and name emotions, the ability to feel safe connecting, and thus attaching, to our family.
There is a special spirit at Harborcreek Youth Services.
You can feel it as soon as you step on campus.
It becomes evident that this is a Christian facility from the moment you walk through the doors, and the fact that the kids are offered spiritual feeding, in the form of church services and access to spiritual council, sets this RTF apart from others. I believe this is a key component to why a higher level of healing is found here. Mind, body and spirit are so intertwined that it makes sense that only in a facility that treats all three components would healing be found to this degree.
There are so many elements to life at Harborcreek Youth Services that I appreciated. First and foremost was the staff. I can imagine that in a facility that works with troubled and hurting boys, it would be easy to disconnected and become hardened as a means of self- preservation. I am sure it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to not always see the fruits of your efforts, but I was amazed at how kind, connected, and invested all the staff were.
I was impressed by the level of care put into safety…Elements like house rules and security cameras were used to provide a safe environment for these kids to heal, but just as much effort was put into making sure Ozzie felt safe, not just was safe…a key component to getting the kids out of the fight-or-flight mindset which allows for healing.
Ozzie was placed at Harborcreek to find healing and help but it wasn’t all work. He appreciated his time in the classroom and loved his teacher. He raved about how good the food was…our compliments to the kitchen staff! And the all extras that were part of life at Harborcreek; things like sports, dirt bike classes, and trips off ground were a wonderful way to bring motivation and joy to kids who perhaps have received little of that in their life.
Ozzie spent seven months at Harborcreek Youth Services, and in that time found a level of help and healing that would have been impossible to replicate in an outpatient setting.
Our family is so grateful for all the staff, from the CEO down, who invests so much into this divine calling of helping those boys whom the rest of the world has given up on.
Your facility has the power to change the course of a young man’s life. I have witnessed it myself in my own child and will forever be grateful.
Last night  I stepped outside to find this scene before me.
Ozzie and his younger brother were sitting on a blanket under the stars looking for constellations. They sat side by side, talking and laughing.
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This was a scene I only dreamt of a year ago.
You have brought healing, joy and laughter back into our home.
Thank you for being that blessing!

A Scout is…

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Our Boy Scout troop’s Court of Honor ceremonies take place a few times a year and provide an opportunity for the young men of the troop to receive their earned merit badges and be recognized for their advancements.

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It is always a day of celebration as we gather with other families to celebrate to journey we are all on as we help our boys grow into men.

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During these ceremonies we also get a peek into the behind-the-scenes of life for the Boy Scout leaders as they prep, plan, prepare and praise these young men from immature boys into men of honor. We are blessed with exceptional leadership in our scout troop and I have no doubt the God brought together this mix of boys, leaders, and families at this time because they all needed each other to become who God is molding them to be.

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Two of my favorite Boy Scouts.

 This particular Court of Honor ceremony was extra special as it was also Nate’s Eagle Recognition ceremony. Earning the rank of Eagle Scout is a notable achievement that only 4% of Boy Scouts ever achieve.

 

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“Periodically, we read about a young man becoming an Eagle Scout and we know we should be impressed – but why?

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If you have never journeyed through the life of a BSA Boy Scout you most likely only have a general idea of what is required to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award. Furthermore, you are not versed in the detailed intricacies, and at times, the all-consuming day-to-day Boy Scout experience. A young man does not become an Eagle Scout within a few months; it takes years.

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Advancement through the seven required ranks of Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle is not something one can teach in a short amount of time. Each rank is broken down into increments requiring the scout to master the skills of personal care and safety for one’s self, indoor sustainability, outdoor survival, and the ability to work with others; whether as a team or as their leader. Until the scout displays proficiency for what is required within each rank he is not able to advance.

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The 21 required merit badges – 13 Eagle specific – are also challenging. Have you ever hiked 20 miles, listed the six functions of government as noted in the Preamble to the Constitution, or made a timeline of the history of environmental science in America? The Eagle Scout has. He had to accomplish tasks and learn large amounts of information to complete his Eagle required merit badges. These badges cover the spectrum of physical fitness – within the individual’s capabilities – to knowledge necessary for any college bound student.

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Extensive service hours and service projects, along with living by the Scout Law: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent….

And hungry!

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This is the life of a Boy Scout.

So the next time you read of a boy who has just received their Eagle Scout Award – be impressed. This award was not handed to him, he earned it. It will not be one of those items packed away with the other trophies of his youth, but instead will be displayed in his daily actions and its quintessence will forever live in his heart.”-Chicago Tribune

The truthfulness of this statement has been proven time and time again in the character and actions of many notable Eagle Scouts:

“As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Eagle Scout George Coker refused to write a statement denouncing America. And so he was forced to stand against a wall, arms over his head, for 13-hour stretches, day after day after day.

Coker tried everything to survive those long hours: praying, counting to himself, thinking about his family. By the end of two months, however, he could barely remember his own name.

But he remembered the Scout Oath. “The very last thing I could consciously hold onto was the Scout Oath,” he said. “By the end, I could only get out the first verse: ‘On my honor I will do my best.’ That forced my brain to function and say, ‘I will do this again. I will not do what they want me to do.’ ” – Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influences of America’s Eagle Scouts.”

And this day we celebrated as another good scout earned the rank of Eagle.

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The sheer number of Eagle Scouts in the room, who stood to repeat the Eagle Scout pledge, was humbling. I was proud to have Toby stand among them.

They say it takes a village to raise a child…

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I would argue that it takes a troop to raise a man.

 

 

 

Spring Formal: The Greatest Show on Earth!

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With the arrival of Spring comes the arrival of another Spring Formal. This in an annual event that my older kids look forward to. It is a semi-formal dance put on by our church for the youth, ages 14-18, in the Pittsburgh area.

The girls always look forward to this event with enthusiasm; loving the opportunity to go dress shopping, get dolled up, and dance the night away with friends. Rusty also looks forward to this event, but for him the pull has more to do with the delicious dishes served rather than the dancing that is done…typical guy!

The theme of the evening and the venue change year to year but the experience is always a hit:

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This year was a bit different from past Spring Formals. For one thing Olivia and Grace weren’t attending. As college students they have graduated from the Spring Formal world and now are busy with new adventures. This year Molly also extended the invitation to Spring Formal to some friends from co-op and Annaliese joined her and Tatum this year.

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The theme for this year’s event was “The Greatest Showman,” and when the kids heard that they were over the moon. “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack has been playing on a loop in our home for the last four months and the girls and I are IN LOVE with this movie, so to find out that it was the theme for this year’s Spring Formal made Molly very excited.

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She fully embraced the theme of the night and decided to use some of her hard earned money to purchase a vintage dress at the Vintage Pittsburgh event that we attended. She choose a dress that she thought was reflective of the style of that time period.

She also made the bold decision to dye her hair pink in a nod to the trapeze artist from the movie.

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Using a temporary (4-8 wash) dye, she transformed her blond locks to pink.

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She paired her ensemble with a pink purse and vintage hair clip from our dress-up box in the playroom. The finished effect was adorable!

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On Saturday night we met up with Tatum, Lucas, and Annaliese to get some photos.

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Then Toby drove down south to pick up some more kiddos from church before heading to Greentree where the event was held.

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The theme of the evening was carried into the decorations,

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And in the snacks in the snacks that were served.

Everyone loved the circus food that included popcorn, hot dogs, and cotton candy.

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I think everyone had a good time.

Another year, another Spring Formal, another memory for the books!

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The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

The Art of Hearing

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What does sound look like?

If you were to turn the sound of dogs barking

Or raindrops falling

Into a visual work of art, what form would it take on the canvas?

It is an interesting question…

One I had never given thought to until last Friday,

But these ponderings have consumed my thoughts ever since, sparking within me a desire to put color to canvas and create.

Friday night, following an enjoyable day at the Erie Art Museum, Grace and I kept the prevailing theme of the day going with an evening at a local art show. Gracie heard about this particular artist from her ASL teacher. She came home eager to share news of this show with Molly and I, along with an invitation to join her.

The story behind this artist was as compelling as the artwork itself. Here is her story as told through an article published by The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“The darkness in these paintings represents the quiet.

Bright colors portray loud sounds.

The dots show sound being transferred … sometimes broken up … between the inconsistent noises.

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Artist Andrea Echavarria, who is deaf, has a cochlear implant, an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the inner ear and provides sound signals to the brain. It’s allowed her to explore another world when it comes to her paintings.

Recurring shapes in her art signify the cochlear implant, which allows her to hear things after spending most of her life in silence.

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She’s now hearing loud sirens, dogs barking and the calm of her mother’s voice, which has inspired her ideas for artwork to help her express what she hears.

She’s created a collection of these expressions ­— “The Art of Hearing: Works by Andrea Echavarria” — for a show from 6 to 9 p.m. April 13 at 448 Studios, in Etna. The 30 pieces will be for sale.

“I want to let people know that deaf people can do many things,” Echavarria says via Eileen Noble, a certified American Sign Language interpreter from Harmarville. “I can express myself through my art. It really feels awesome inside. It’s my passion.”

Echavarria says she couldn’t do it without the assistance of artist Tom Mosser, whose work has been featured at sports venues across the U.S. He was her first art teacher. Mosser describes himself as part mentor, eccentric uncle figure, goofy friend, buddy, part life coach, speech coach, big brother and fellow artist. He often writes inspiring messages to her on the studio walls and works daily on learning sign language.

“Any time I’m bumming out over a sore knee, or a sore elbow or something, I only have to look across the studio floor and I see what hurdles she overcomes daily,” Mosser says. “I’ve had a giant metal ruler for years. Every so often it will fall on the floor with a huge crash. Before the implant, Andrea would never move. Now, when it happens, she kind of jumps. And that makes me smile. I’m a much better artist and person for having been around her and her family.”

“Tom has been a blessing to her,” says Andrea Echavarria’s mother, Laurel. “She would never have expanded who she is as an artist without him. He pushes her in a kind and loving way. He tells her not to be afraid to make a mistake.”

Echavarria, 29, who works in oils, watercolors and acrylics, attended the Western PA School for the Deaf in Edgewood and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and says she always knew she wanted to be an artist.

“I like being really creative and I have been using sounds I hear in my paintings,” she says. “I am a deaf person and I am proud of that. Hearing sounds is also an awesome thing.”

The transition to the implant in 2009 at age 21 wasn’t easy. It was overwhelming at times and she needed to turn the volume down on the implant.

“When I got the implant, I was wondering what I would be able to hear,” she says. “I was hoping to hear something. I didn’t know what to expect, after not hearing for so long. I began to hear sounds. I didn’t know what they were yet, but they were my dog barking, cars swooshing by on the street, my family’s voices, people talking, the telephone ringing.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s different than what you hear. Sometimes I get a headache if there’s a lot of noise. I wasn’t used to all the loud noises. I was used to a very quiet life before. I’m more confident around people now because I can speak a little now. And I just feel more connected to the world around me through sound. Technology has been a great thing for me to communicate and for my art. ”      -JoAnne Klimovich Harrop of the Tribune-Review

After driving home from Erie, Molly prepared for work, disappointed that she would be unable to join us. It was unfortunate that Molly couldn’t tag along, as I know she would have enjoyed the event, but these unfortunate circumstances allowed Grace and I to get in some fun one-on-one time.

The studio was located in Etna. Tucked behind a large warehouse, we found 448 Studios.

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Within its walls we found inspiration in the form of paintings by Andrea Echavarria.

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We wandered wall to wall soaking up the sight of sound as interpreted by this talented artist. The artwork was moving…affecting…powerful.

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And we found ourselves drawn into the artwork.

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While enjoying the art, Gracie ran into fellow classmates and teachers from her American Sign Language classes, and it was fun to step into Gracie’s world and watch her communicate so naturally and joyfully with others in ASL.

Our conversation on the drive home revolved around the things we had seen at the show. Inspired by the art of another, we both left feeling the desire to create.

I suppose that is one of the hallmarks of a true artist…

They make you look at the world in a new way,

They affect you on a personal level,

They pull from within a raw, emotional reaction,

and they touch the artist that exists within each of us, leaving us with a need to go out into the world and create our own art.

 

 

Erie Art Museum

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Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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Olive Brings Home a Horse

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Yep, it is that time again…time for a photo dump…

a random collection of unconnected events that have occurred in the last few months…

Gracie’s birthday fell on a Friday and despite the fact she is in college and 20 years old, she decided that if she wasn’t working on the Wednesday following her birthday she would go to co-op and bring a birthday treat. It was March 14th…Pi Day.

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Get it?

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So she decided to celebrate her birthday in conjunction with Pi Day and bring in mini pies for her birthday treat.

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St. Patrick’s Day-is a favorite holiday in our home. We embrace any reason we can to celebrate our Irish roots. This year we paired our Irish dinner with our Family Night lesson and had a St. Patrick’s Day lesson entitled “Lucky or Blessed?” which explains our unique table centerpiece. 🙂

Olive continues to bring a heightened level of excitement to our home with her unbridled energy and enthusiasm and pony-like size. In fact we often refer to her as our family’s “dark horse,” which is why I didn’t even glance up when Tyler look out the window and declared, “Look, there’s a horse in the yard.”

I assumed he was talking about Olive until he clarified, “I wonder where Olive got that horse.”

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Hearing that and knowing Olive’s propensity for trouble I shot to the window fully expecting a real horse in the yard, herded there by my enthusiastic and spastic sheep dog, but what I found instead was Olive’s big lips wrapped firmly around a plastic playground riding toy.

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It was bizarre. We have no idea where she got it or what poor unsuspecting child is missing the riding horse from their swing set, but Olive had firmly claimed it as her “baby” and won’t let anyone else touch it. This unusually large and awkward  plastic horse has become her new favorite toy.

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I have the weirdest dogs.

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This past week the World Cultures Club at Gracie’s school was hosting an event that turned a typical Tuesday into an international journey. After her morning class Gracie stumbled upon a feast of international dishes. There were booths lining the walls of the lobby with food from many nations. For a small donation students received a take out container that they could take booth to booth and fill with tasty dishes from all nations. It was like the “poor girl” version of a trip to  Epcot’s World Showcase. As the students feasted on food from around the world they could sit and enjoy performers from different countries sharing traditional dances and song.

As part of their fundraising efforts the World Culture Club had gift baskets for raffle from different countries. Grace decided to purchase a $1.00 raffle ticket and placed it in the Ireland basket. You can imagine her delight when she received a call the following day informing her she had won.

“I’ve never won anything!” she shared, delighted at this rare turn of Irish luck.

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Grace brought home the basket and had fun pulling out all the treasures and tasting some of the treats within.

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We may not always be lucky, but we are always blessed!

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Sign-a-Thon

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As part of Gracie’s grade in her ASL classes, she needs to attend 3 deaf events each semester. This is a part of her schooling that she loves. It gives her an opportunity to put into practice the language skills she is learning in the classroom and immerse herself into the culture of the deaf community.

This past Saturday she made plans to attend one of these events and it worked out perfectly that it was being held at The Mall at Robinson, a two minute drive from where we spent the night for Molly’s 18th birthday celebration. I’d like to say I was on the ball and planned this purposely but I wasn’t even considering this event when I chose the hotel for Molly’s 18th birthday. It truly was sweet serendipity.

We arrived at the mall and asked for directions to the Sign-a-Thon, having never been in that mall before. I was amazed at how large and thriving it was. I find most malls nowadays to be on their death bed with the influx of online shopping, so stepping into a mall that was bustling with shoppers caught me by surprise and took me back to my high school years when malls were the heart of most teen’s social scenes.

The deaf event was held in the center of the mall. The sound of music drew us to the heart of the event but aside from the music playing over the speakers the noise in the lobby was unusually quiet given the huge crowd that was gathered. We stepped to the railing and were greeted with this sight:

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What an awesome view it was to look over the railing and see hundreds of people signing all at once.

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While I watched the action from above (so I could capture some photos), the girls headed down below.

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This was Gracie’s assignment for school but knowing Molly’s interest in/love for American Sign Language, she invited her little sister along. It was Molly’s birthday and she was wearing the crown to prove it, which gave her ample opportunities to sign, “Thank you,” and “I am 18 years old,” to the many people who wished her happy birthday (in ASL) and inquired how old she was turning.

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With attendance to the Sign-a-Thon came the opportunity to make some new friends, gather information relevant to the deaf, do a little networking, and leave with a really cool t-shirt!

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Grace was able to introduce Molly to fellow classmates and her favorite teacher at CCAC, a woman who has fueled Gracie’s love of the language even more.

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While the girls walked from booth to booth I enjoyed watching performers on the main stage sign to the music that filled the lobby. One interpreter in particular was a joy to watch as his signed words became a sort of dance.

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The girls had a wonderful time and returned to me beaming with enthusiasm at what was a very cool experience. Grace was powerfully affected by the sight of so many signing at once, and Molly was pleased to find that she was more competent in ASL than she thought she was.

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She was pleased to report she understood 75% of what was signed to her while she walked around.

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It was a special way to kick off Molly’s special day…

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I can’t believe my baby is officially 18!!

Where you Lead, I will Follow

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Like so many entertainment trends I tend to be a decade late to the party. Gilmore Girls is a perfect example of this. Only in the last 6 months have I stumbled into this magical world thanks to Netflix. I don’t know how I missed it the first time around. My only thought is that perhaps it was because during the early years of this millennium I was drowning in bottles, diapers, and Veggie Tales videos and had socially checked out during those prime Gilmore Girl years.

But not to worry. I may be a decade late but I have finally stumbled upon and jumped aboard the fan train and am loving the journey!

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The girls and I were introduced to the Gilmore Girls last fall by the Hudaks, not long after Ozzie had been placed in a residential facility. It was a season when we were all reeling and raw and this imaginary town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut and the characters within proved to be a place of healing for Molly and I. Each day during lunch break we would snuggle on my bed and watch one episode, with Grace joining us as her schedule allowed. Much like Downton Abbey became a special shared connection between Grace and I, Gilmore Girls became Molly and my shared connection.

This daily escape to another place became the source of much laughter, a few tears, and a lot of discussion as the relationship between the two main characters (who happen to be mother and daughter) played out on the screen. I don’t know when I have loved a show more and it was such a joy tumbling into that world with my girls.

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As Molly’s 18th birthday neared, I knew what I wanted to do to celebrate her special day. Just as I had taken Grace on a journey to Downton Abbey for her 18th birthday (See link below)

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I wanted to whisk Molly away to Stars Hollow for her 18th birthday, so with Gracie helping me plan, and the Hudaks in on the surprise, we set to work. The plan was to take Molly away for the night to a hotel where we would surprise her with a Gilmore Girls birthday party. I don’t know when I have had more fun planning an event, due in large part to the fact that in the midst of months of planning my creative juices were continually sparked  with our daily Gilmore Girls lunch date.

Here are some clues to the inspirations that prompted our themed decorations:

(In fact we are still not done with the show, despite the party being over. We are only on season 6 so don’t give anything away!)

In the weeks leading up to Molly’s birthday our craft room became party headquarters with a “Molly, Do NOT Enter” sign posted outside. My printer got a workout as I printed, cut, laminated, and wrapped until my fingers bled, determined to bring Stars Hollow to life in our hotel room.

Finally the day arrived. I had booked the hotel for Friday night (the day before Molly’s birthday.) Grace and I drove down to the hotel at lunchtime to check in early and decorate the suite on the sly so that when we arrived later with the Hudak girls and Molly in tow they would walk into the finished room.

While Grace made newspaper hats for me I began decorating, hiding nods to favorite episodes through the rooms of our suite.

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When the room was sufficiently decked out and we were packing up to leave we received a knock at the door. The housekeeping staff had seen the Dragonfly Inn sign on the outside of the hotel room door and wanted to know if we were filming a movie. When we explained that it was a Gilmore Girl surprise party they asked if they could take a tour. Turns out we weren’t the only Gilmore Girl fans in the building and our efforts were greatly appreciated by the housekeeping staff who clapped with glee at our efforts. 🙂

Later that afternoon it was time to head out. Molly didn’t know what to expect, as Grace had secretly packed her overnight bag. We drove north to pick up the Hudaks  (Lana, Olivia, and Tatum.) I had to laugh when I saw the girls. It turns out all three had embraced their inner Luke and Molly was riding along with a noticeable clue to the evening ahead and didn’t even realize it.

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We arrived, cluing Molly into the fact that we were spending the night at a hotel, but still unaware of the surprise that lay ahead. We took the elevator to the 4th floor and gave Molly the key.

Her first clue as to what the evening entailed:

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We stepped inside and Molly and the Hudaks caught their first glimpse of our Gilmore Girl Gala:

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They embarked on an impromptu “I Spy” hunt as they discovered all the nods to Rory and Lorelai hidden about the room. Here are some of the surprises we tucked around the suite:

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Once the tour was complete the fun began.

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We started with picking our “teams” for the night:

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Who is your favorite Gilmore guy?

Then it was time to prepare for dinner. In true Lorelai style we opted to order in rather than go out. Earlier in the day I collected take out menus from local restaurants that would deliver to the hotel and scattered them in front of the TV, creating “functional décor.”

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The girls perused the menus and chose dishes that sounded good from a few different restaurant, and then we ordered.

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As we waited for our food to arrive party favors were handed out.

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Tucked into Chinese take-out containers that I labeled with Al’s Pancake World, the girls found “jam hands” chapstick, “I will follow” bracelets, and Gilmore Girls socks.

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Once properly attired for the evening ahead we sat down and began our Gilmore Girl marathon. Picking some of our favorite episodes of all time we settled in for a night of laughter and Gilmore Girl bingo.

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Some of our choices for the night included:

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It wasn’t too long before we had our first winner. Our bingo prizes were wrapped gift bags whose outside tags bore a clue to the prize within. Inside each bag was a nail polish that matched the clue on the outside:

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After an episode and a half the first wave of food arrived.

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In a spread that would make Lorelai proud, we feasted on everything from pizza to fried rice to deviled eggs, eating until our stomachs hurt.

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At 10:00 pm the girls decided to take a break from our Gilmore Girl marathon and head down to the pool before it closed for the night, only to discover that it was shut down do to “unforeseen circumstances.” So they came up with a plan B:

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Then it was time for gifts and cake. Sticking with the theme of the night Molly received a Luke’s Diner t-shirt from Miss Lana:

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A beautifully framed, hand-painted picture of the show’s theme song from Olivia:

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And a touching digital scrapbook of their decade long friendship from Tatum:

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Molly’s birthday cake was a collection of cupcakes baked by Olivia. They were topped with a broken piece of pop-tart and filled with the matching flavor. They were so perfect and so delicious!

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By 2:00 am the moms were spent and headed to bed while the girls began a game of Gilmore Girls Guess Who and Gilmore Girls Monopoly.

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Eventually they too stumbled into bed.

In the morning we woke Molly in the traditional way with a cupcake and a song.

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My baby is officially an adult!

Happy birthday, Miss Molly, I hope we made some memories you will treasure forever.

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